C.Africa rebel agrees to polls under new leader

Michel Djotodia speaks on Republic Plaza in Bangui on March 30, 2013.  By Sia Kambou (AFP)

Michel Djotodia speaks on Republic Plaza in Bangui on March 30, 2013. By Sia Kambou (AFP)

BANGUI (AFP) – The Central African Republic’s rebel strongman on Thursday agreed to a regional plan to hold elections within 18 months and appoint another interim leader, the prime minister said.

Michel Djotodia, who proclaimed himself president after seizing Bangui in a bloody coup last month, had planned a three-year transition to democratic rule.

However regional leaders rejected his presidency at a meeting of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) on Wednesday, after his Seleka rebel coalition ousted Francois Bozize.

The leaders of the six-nation bloc called for a freshly elected council to take charge of a political transition and to elect an interim president for no more than 18 months.

“I have discussed (the issue) with the head of state (Djotodia), who has given his agreement that (the ECCAS) solution be chosen,” Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, who attended the summit in N’Djamena, said Thursday.

“This is an agreement that will enable the CAR to come out of isolation, which will enable us to avoid being shunned by the international community. I see no reason why the Seleka should oppose it,” he added.

Djotodia on Thursday morning met a delegation of foreign ministers from the ECCAS as well as representatives of the African Union and of the International Francophone Organisation.

After the talks, Seleka spokesman and Communications Minister Christophe Gazam Betty confirmed that Djotodia “has accepted all the recommendations made in N’Djamena. He agreed to all the plans that were drawn up by heads of state … without wasting time.”

The new council, to be elected by leading political and social forces in the poor, landlocked country, should take charge of the transition and play an executive role during it, according to the plans made in Chad.

After the summit, Chadian President Idriss Deby told journalists that this interim body must vote for a transitional president who would serve for not more than 18 months.

Djotodia, a former civil servant and diplomat who turned rebel in 2005, grabbed power after a rapid assault on the capital Bangui on the grounds that the regime had failed to abide by a January peace deal.

He kept opposition figure Tiangaye in office as head of the government, in line with the accords signed with Bozize in Gabon’s capital Libreville.

Bozize has accused onetime ally Chad — which hosted the regional summit — of helping the rebels to oust him.

The coup also prompted a scandal in Pretoria after 13 South African soldiers were killed in the fighting, and forced President Jacob Zuma to announce Thursday the withdrawal of a contingent of over 200 troops.

Zuma has faced a firestorm of criticism over why troops were present in a country where South Africa has no immediate strategic interests.

In Bangui, the proposals made in N’Djamena were well-received.

A former aide to Bozize’s regime, asking not to be named, told AFP they were “a good thing, good news.”

“Seleka has won and we can’t make it disappear just like that (…) To shorten the period for the transition is also a good thing. If we see that it isn’t feasible, we can extend it.”

Former prime minister and opposition figure Martin Ziguele, who attended the Chad talks, also reacted positively. “The decision of the heads of state is… a means to give legitimacy to a man or a woman who will have the formidable task of leading the transition.”

Benin said Thursday it was willing to grant asylum to the ousted Bozize, who fled to Cameroon after the coup.

Bozize has accused onetime ally Chad of helping the rebels to oust him.